The scientific name of toad lily (Montia chamissoi) previously was Claytonia chamissoi. This native perennial was recently moved from the Purselane Family (Portulacaeae) to the Miner’s Lettuce Family (Montiaceae). Other colloquial names for M chamissoi are Chamisso’s montia, water miner’s lettuce and Indian lettuce.
Colonies of toad lily form from both pinkish rhizomes (underground stems) and stolons (horizontal above-ground stems). Bulblets formed at the base of the stem can also root and send up new shoots. Occasionally toad lily is aquatic, anchoring in mud and floating in water. Toad lily stems can be erect or sprawling. The opposite leaves are fleshy and smooth.
The toad lily inflorescences are loose clusters of flowers at the tips of stems and also arising from some leaf axils. The two sepals form a cup around the corolla. This cup is shorter than the petals. The white to pink flowers have five petals, five pink to purplish- tipped stamens and a three-parted style. The flower stalks are about one inch long and hairless.
Toad lily fruits are egg-shaped, three-sectioned capsules containing 1 to 3 tiny black seeds per chamber.
Found in Western North America from Alaska to California east to the Rocky Mountain States and New Mexico. Toad lily is also found in Minnesota, Pennsylavnia and Iowa from 4,000 to 11,000 feet. Its habitat is bogs, marshes, springs, seeps and streambanks. These specimens were growing along Modoc National Forest Road 42F97A (Modoc County CA).
The leaves and stems of Montia species are edible raw or cooked. A poultice of Montia can be used to sooth minor burns and skin irritations. Native Americans used toad lily to relieve headaches.
Two gentlemen are honored by the toad lily scientific designation. The genus is named for Giuseppe Monti (1682 – 1760), a botanist, chemist and the director of the Bologna Botanic Garden. Adelbert von Chamisso (1781 – 1838), a French-born German botanist who worked with JF Eschscholtz in the San Francisco Bay Area and on a search for the Northwest Passage, gives his name to the species.